By Anne Morrissy
In March of 2013, Lauderdale Lakes resident Jeff Adams had already run several marathons, but he was about to add a new location to his list: Antarctica. After flying to Buenos Aires, he and the other runners, who traveled from all over the globe, flew together to “the end of the earth” — Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet. There, they boarded two Russian research ships for the trip across the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Southern oceans all converge. The Drake Passage is famously one of the worst ocean crossings on earth due to the frequently rough seas — described by at least one modern traveler as “somewhere between bad and terrifying.”
Arriving at the Antarctic coast, Adams and his fellow racers woke at dawn and climbed into inflatable Zodiac boats to head to the most remote land on earth. “Just getting to the starting line is a marathon in itself,” Adams explains. But the reward is a 26.2-mile run through some of the most austere and beautiful terrain in the world. “The scale of everything is different than anything you’ve seen before,” he says. Running over snow, mud and heavy rock along rough coastal paths and between scientific research stations, Adams and his fellow runners saw native wildlife most people only dream about: orcas, southern elephant seals, penguin chicks. “The morning after the race, I was out kayaking with the whales,” he explains.
LIFE CHANGING EVENTS AND A NEW PATH
For Adams, Antarctica was just the latest experience in a series of events that would turn out to have a profound impact. Adams and his wife, Kelly, had spent their married life moving around the country, following Adams’ career in wealth management with Morgan Stanley and its predecessor firms. But in 2010, Adams says he got a kind of “wake-up call,” when his father passed away unexpectedly. “The day I turned 50, we held services for my dad,” he explains. Then 52 days later, his mother passed away. A few days after that, the family lost their beloved golden retriever. Shortly thereafter, Adams says, his doctor told him he was getting concerned with a few of his vitals. “It put me on a different path,” he says.
That same year, Kelly had decided to train for a marathon and convinced him to join her. Though he hadn’t run in many years, Adams found he loved the experience. The following year, he was looking for a way to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that was very personal to him. His office had once been in the World Trade Center — his employer the largest occupant — and he lost several friends and colleagues in the tragedy. He decided to train for two marathons around the anniversary — one in France to honor a mentor, and the New York City marathon in November to honor the city’s first responders. The marathon in France was the first time he encountered a Boston-based company called Marathon Tours & Travel, which arranges travel experiences around international marathons. “That’s when I first became a client,” he explains.
Marathon Tours & Travel started the Antarctica Marathon in 1995. Due to the limited number of people allowed ashore at once, by the time Adams encountered the company, the annual marathon had a wait list of around two to three years. Adams signed up, which is how he found himself running 26.2 miles at the end of the world in 2013. Though he didn’t know it at the time, it would not be his last trip there.
DEEP ROOTS AT LAUDERDALE LAKES
The next year, Adams retired from a 28-year career in wealth management. Retirement gave him more time to focus on a passion project he and Kelly had picked up a few years earlier: rebuilding and restoring a historic home on Deakin Island between Middle and Green lakes in the Lauderdale Lakes chain, just north of Elkhorn.
Adams’ connection to the Lauderdale Lakes went back generations, though he and Kelly didn’t realize that when they purchased their first summer home there in 2003 to enjoy with their kids. Adams’ middle name is Lauderdale, in honor of his paternal grandmother’s maiden name. What was initially assumed to be a coincidence turned out to be much more meaningful when he discovered that his grandmother was born in the area, descending from the original Lauderdale family for whom the lakes are named. “She was one of the most interesting ladies I’ve ever known,” he says. With the family connection to the area restored, the Adamses eventually decided to make the Lauderdale Lakes their permanent home base.
While maintaining their existing home on Lauderdale, they purchased a new lake property in 2010. “It’s a marquis home on the lake,” Adams explains. “The families on the lake all have stories about attending parties here over the years. Someone needed to step up and show it some love, and we were the ones who were crazy enough,” he laughs.
It turned out to be a huge project. The oldest part of the home dated to the 1880s, with significant additions added around 1906 and 1913. Due to the age and condition of the home, the Adamses discovered that an historic renovation wasn’t really possible — they needed to undertake an historic reconstruction. So, over the course of several years, they worked with local craftsmen and builders to disassemble the home, salvage the pieces that could be saved, and rebuild the home to the same blueprint it occupied during its heyday around 1920, when Jazz Age playboy Earl Deakin entertained showgirls and gangsters and kept his prized speedboats in a custom wet dock.
When Adams retired in 2014, he threw his energy into the project, helping to collect historic photos and oral histories of the home to ensure accuracy in the details. They finally moved into the home in late 2015.
A NEW CAREER TAKES HOLD
Around the same time, a new opportunity presented itself to Adams, and like the home restoration, it proved to be one he couldn’t resist. Adams had continued traveling around the world with Marathon Tours & Travel, even helping to facilitate and manage the logistics for some of the races, including the Antarctica Marathon.
In doing so, he had become friends with the founder of the company, Thom Gilligan. When Adams retired from Morgan Stanley, Gilligan approached him about coming on board. According to Adams, it started as a business consultation: “Thom said, ‘I’d like you to give me some advice — I want to understand if my business plan is what it should be.’ So I spent a year helping advise him.” It was such a successful collaboration that eventually Gilligan invited Adams to take on a more permanent role.
Serving as President of Marathon Tours & Travel since 2016, Adams has continued to maintain a busy travel and running schedule as he scouts new opportunities around the world. Recently he’s run races in Sydney, Bali, Singapore and Scotland — even stopping off at Thirlestane Castle, the ancestral seat of the Duke of Lauderdale — to consider them as possible tour destinations in the near future. “It’s what I liked as a client, and it’s what our clients like now — we’re out there leading by example, running the races with them and for them,” he says. Adams says that the clients they work with at Marathon Tours & Travel are a diverse and interesting group. “We get people from all backgrounds and all ages, from young professionals to those people in their 70s and now 80s who are out running their 200th and 300th marathon.”
HELPING OTHERS: A FAMILIAR THEME
Throughout his life, Adams has also focused on giving back. When they lived in Dallas, he and Kelly were instrumental in starting a chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation in northern Texas. Today, he serves as a national board member for Back on My Feet, a nonprofit organization that aims to combat homelessness through running, community support and housing, and employment resources. “We’ve always believed in giving back,” he explains. “And Back on My Feet is a great organization. It has such a positive effect on people dealing with homelessness, many of whom, sadly, are veterans. Just getting up three mornings a week and going out for a run and maintaining that community changes how they see themselves. When we go out and run with that group, we’re all just runners out there.”
Another example of runners giving back is Marathon Tours & Travels’ ongoing philanthropic support of organizations researching climate change in Antarctica, underwriting girls’ education in Kenya and proving medical support for villagers in Madagascar.
Reflecting on both his career and now his post-retirement career, Adams says he sees a lot of similarities in those two phases of his life. “The one question I get asked the most often is, ‘How do you go from 28 years of wealth management to helping people explore the world?’” he says. “It’s about the client and about helping them accomplish their goals. It’s the same thing. I see the two as very parallel.” The difference, he says, is that with marathon running and travel, the experience is based on passion and a shared sense of camaraderie. “The people that are doing these trips, they all have inspirational stories,” he continues. “The camaraderie is one of the real highlights. We’re out there exploring the world together one step at a time.”